What is ease in sewing. Wearing ease, design ease, negative ease explained

What is ease in sewing? Negative ease, wearing ease, design ease explained

Ease / wearing ease / design ease / negative ease

What is ease and why should you care about it? Well...have you ever sewn a (pdf) sewing pattern after following directions, carefully measuring yourself and selecting the size only to have it come out way to large or tighter than you wanted? That's because you haven't factored in ease.

Just like every clothing brand out there, each sewing pattern company uses their own set of body measurements and on top of that they add wearing ease and design ease. So you'll have no idea how loose or fitted a garment will turn out. Even if the pattern envelope tells you that it's fitted or loose....ease is really a very personal thing. While you consider 10 cm / 4" of bust ease unacceptably baggy, others would consider 2,5 cm / 1" unacceptably tight.

So it's best to not only measure your body measurements, but also check the finished size measurements or measure the pattern pieces minus the seam allowance to get an idea of how much ease is included in the pattern.

An example form the Pocket-T size chart, including body measurements and finished garment measurements.

finished garment measurements vs. body measurments when exploring ease.


So if the pattern includes 1 cm / 3/8"of seam allowance start measuring 1 cm / 3/8" from the edge of the pattern...or at least the edges that have seam allowance included, if the pattern says "on fold" it means it's aligned with the fold of the fabric where there is no seam and therefore no seam allowance should be deducted.

measuring the finished garment sizes

How to mark the stitch line and to measure the finished garment size

What is ease in sewing?

Ease is the room in the garment that allows you to move, sit and breathe, it's the difference between the body measurements and the final garment measurments. Patterns are all designed with different amounts of ease, depending on the company and designer. The ease in a pattern is a combination of:

Body measurements + wearing ease + design ease

A (bare) minimum of ease or wearing ease is around:

  • 5cm / 2” around the bust

  • 2.5 cm / 1" around the waist

  • 3.8 cm / 1 1/2" around the hips

So with wearing ease you are able to move, sit and breathe in the garment, but if you want to add a flowy skirt or maybe a boxy fit. That's where design ease comes in. There are no rules, it's up to the designer or your personal preference, but there are some rough guidelines you can use. I've made a design ease reference chart, combining examples from different sources below.

An ease reference chart for the bust area in shirts, dresses and tops.

Close fitting: up to 7.5 cm [ 2 1/2" ]
Fitted: 7.5cm to 10 cm [ 3" to 4" ]
Semi-fitted: 10 cm to 12.5 cm [ 4 " to 5" ]
Loose fitting: 12.5 cm to 20 cm [ 5" to 8" ]
Very Loose fitting: over 20 cm [ over 8" ]

An ease reference chart for the hip area, pants, shirts, skirts.

Close fitting: up to 5 cm [2"]
Fitted: 5 cm to 7.5 cm [ 2" to 3”]
Semi-fitted: 7.5 cm to 10 cm [ 3" to 4”]
Loose fitting: 10 cm to 15 cm [ 4" to 6”]
Very Loose fitting: over 15cm [ over 6”]

An ease reference chart for the bust area in jackets, blazers.

These all have about 5m extra ease in each fit, because they need to fit over other garments like blouses and dresses.

Fitted 9.5 cm to 10.75 cm [ 3 3/4" to 4 1/3" ]
Semi-fitted: 11 cm to 15 cm [ 4 1/3" to 6" ]
Loose fitting: 15 cm to 25 cm [ 6" to 10" ]
Very Loose fitting: over 25cm [ over 10" ]

An ease reference chart for the bust area in coats.

Each fit has even more ease because a coat needs to fit over blouses, dresses and jackets.

Fitted: 13.5 cm to 17 cm [ 5 1/3" to 6 3/4”]
Semi-fitted: 17 cm to 20.5 cm [ 6 3/4" to 8”]
Loose fitting: 20.5 cm to 30.5 cm [ 8" to 12”]
Very Loose fitting: over 30.5 cm [ over 12”]

What is negative ease?

Negative ease is used in garments made from knit fabrics. Negative ease is when your final garment measurements are smaller than your body measurements, but the stretch in the fabric will provide ease and room for movement.

So when you are sewing a knit garment it’s important to check the stretch percentage of your fabric against the stretch percentage of your sewing pattern. 

Negative ease in sewing knits

If you look at the sketch of the Elskan dress in the image, you can see that the skirt is very fitted, but the top part of the dress is very loose. In this design there is a combination of ease (top part) and negative ease (in the skirt part)

Here's an example of the body measurements and the finished garment mesurements of the parsec leggings, also with negative ease.

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